Massive illegal dump of rubbish in Coillte forests ‘shocking’

State forestry agency believes at least 30 trucks left waste over ‘two or three days’

Coillte forester John Connolly surveys a mass of industrial and domestic waste dumped illegaly in a managed forest outside Kingscourt, Co Cavan. Photograph: Barry Cronin

Coillte forester John Connolly surveys a mass of industrial and domestic waste dumped illegaly in a managed forest outside Kingscourt, Co Cavan. Photograph: Barry Cronin

 

The scale of illegal dumping discovered this week in two adjoining forests owned by State company Coillte has shocked those who lead its efforts to curb the problem.

More than 600 tonnes of industrial and domestic waste were dumped in the isolated forests in an area covering parts of counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan.

“It’s as big an incident [of illegal dumping] as we have ever had,” confirms Michael Power, Coillte’s manager of national estates security and risk.

Thirty articulated trucks spent “two to three days” bringing the waste to forests at Barley Hill and Drumgill, Coillte believes.

The State company spends up to €500,000 a year collecting litter from its forests. Most of it is “small domestic stuff” deposited close to barriers at the entrance to forest areas. “But we get big drops from time to time.”

The waste causes serious problems to habitats, species, soils and human health. It can pollute rivers and drinking water sources and is a threat to the people who live in an area and recreational users.

Last year, a barrier was broken at the Coillte car park, Ravensdale at the foothills of the Cooley Mountains in Co Louth and three articulated trucks littered the area with worn out tyres.

“This area was obviously cased very well because we had carried out a tier-filling in the area and had done road improvement works to extract the timber, so it was tailor made for what they wanted,” says Power.

A cross-Border criminal link was a possibility being pursued by gardaí, he adds. Removal of the material will cost in excess of €100,000, says Power. But the presence of hazardous material such as asbestos could make the process more difficult.

County council environmental officers and gardaí examined the sites on Wednesday, while Coillte is due to brief the Department of Environment and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on what happened. Ultimately, the taxpayer will foot the bill.

Coillte has a five-year plan to combat illegal waste, involving increased deployment of concealed cameras. It is also supports the project Pure (Protecting Uplands and Rural Environments), which is an attempt to tackle illegal dumping and fly-tipping in Wicklow and Dublin.

More than 600 tonnes of industrial and domestic waste were dumped in the isolated forests in an area covering parts of counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan.
Industrial and domestic waste  dumped in isolated forests in an area covering parts of counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan.

Project director Ian Davis says there has been a year-on-year decline in dumping in their area. It removed 440 tonnes of rubbish from the mountains in 2008; by 2018 it was down to 160 tonnes.

The scale and persistence of illegal dumping has led to better co-ordination between local authorities, State agencies and community groups. The anti-dumping initiative (ADI) was scaled up this year backed by more funds, now totalling €3 million, for monitoring and surveillance equipment, including CCTV and drones.

What’s being done?

It facilitates better management of known black spots. Since 2017, the ADI programme has removed 5,000 tonnes of illegal waste from some of the most notorious fly-tipping locations.

Under new bylaws passed by local authorities, a database is being compiled using Eircodes of those who pay licensed companies to collect their waste so as to pinpoint those who do not.

It is estimated that about 80,000 people – 5 per cent of households – are disposing of their rubbish illegally, by fly-tipping, burning (in outdoor fires or indoor stoves) or use of unlicensed “rogue” collectors. Indiscriminate disposal of construction waste is the other main source.

A report on unauthorised activities in the waste sector has been commissioned by the Government. Such activities could be stamped out only by communities, local authorities and State agencies working more closely together, Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton has said.

Coillte has a confidential forest security hotline where illegal dumping can be reported at 1890-800455. The EPA also has a “See It? Say It!” smartphone app, where the public can photograph illegal dumps and submit details, so that they can take action and notify other agencies.

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